'No bombs without Comms'

Information integration closes seams in the kill chain

Special report on new defense opportunities

Air Force Brig. Gen. Goodrich

Olivier Douliery

The Air Force wants information to flow seamlessly among its commanders and warfighters, whether it comes from a manned or unmanned aircraft, or even from space. To carry out this transformation, the Air Force in May formed the XI Command under Lt. Gen. Leslie Kenne. As part of her staff, Brig. Gen. Dan Goodrich is director of command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance integration, or C4ISR integration.

The transformation to network-centric warfare is both stimulating and challenging. Suggesting that XI should stand for "exciting innovation," Goodrich said Air Force leaders need to be visionaries and use information technology to break down barriers within the service. He recently spoke with Dawn Onley, a staff writer with Government Computer News, a sister publication of Washington Technology.

 

WT: What is the role of the XI Command?

Goodrich: Warfighting integration. We're basically tasked to close the seams in the kill chain. The kill chain is a euphemism for the process by which we identify targets, find them, fix it, track it, target and then execute. It's Gen. Kenne's job to make sure we do that right.

I link with the staff to make sure we are all working hand in hand toward this goal ... [of] closing the seams in the C4ISR picture. That means making sure we are buying the right things. Platforms are important, but only if they bring the right technology to the warrior in the field.

 

WT: How has technology, particularly information technology, played more of a role in your operations over the past decade?

Goodrich: At a [recent] meeting, we were talking about technology and somebody said, 'No bombs without Comms.' That's right on target.

We could not do what we've done, especially in Afghanistan, without technology. Most people remember the Gulf War and watching those bombs go right down chimneys. We are to a point now where our targeting is 10, 50 times more precise. We are able to take global positioning satellite fixes, get them to the aircraft and have the aircraft program their precision guided munitions to hit that point on the ground.

And you know what? It hits it. Every time. The only time it hasn't hit was when there was a mistake made with the information we put into it, and we're working on that technology.

You might recall when we brought in B-52s [in Afghanistan] and we called it close air support, but we had Special Ops guys riding around on horseback with laptop computers, laser ring finders, to be able to spot a target, spot the coordinate, fix the coordinate, take that information and put it into a computer, send that information direct up to a B-52 holding at 35,000 to 40,000 feet. They'd then come over and drop a weapon right on the spot.

We're working on machine to machine, where the laser will [mark] the point and automatically put the coordinates into the machine, and the machine will send it directly to the bomber or other weapons system and input it. We're taking the man out of the loop. So machine-to-machine horizontal integration is something that the chief talks about all the time.

We're at the infancy of this technology. It's only going to get better. We're making sure the technology gets through the testing and acquisition process as rapidly as possible and to the warfighter in the field, because it saves lives -- most importantly, friendly lives, our lives.

WT: What new challenges does interoperability present to the XI Command?

Goodrich: Our challenge is interoperability. It's very tough. For one thing, we have legacy systems that aren't interoperable, and we have to use them until we come up with new systems that automatically talk to one another.

Let's use a radio as an example. In the future, there is a plan for a joint tactical radio system, which is actually extremely interoperable. Everybody is on board to buy that radio. That's the future. Getting from now to the future is the real challenge, because it takes awhile to develop that technology. Between now and then, we have to find ways we can talk to one another. And we're working with the Army and the Navy and other agencies.

 

WT: Do you see any aspects of the Defense Department Transformation that may turn out to be more of a challenge than initially thought?

Goodrich: Americans are very savvy at figuring out machines and how to have a machine do the work for them. The hard part is figuring out the people portion of it. What I mean by that is machines are easy to turn on and off, but with people, you have to get them thinking down the road. You have to get them out of their old thinking.

As a leader in the Air Force, it's my job to make sure people say, "Wow, I hadn't thought of that. That sounds like a great idea," vs. "That's not how we do it. We've always done it this way."

"We've always done it this way" doesn't work in our Air Force. We need to have the culture of the Air Force think out of the box -- start thinking of the greater good and what happens as a whole vs. what little piece I bring to it. Transformation means breaking down barriers between these stovepipes.

 

WT: Have you seen any positive outcomes from the increased battlespace awareness that networking has brought?

Goodrich: Absolutely. The amount of information and battlespace awareness that is gained now vs. five to 10 years ago is amazing.

We have a term now called predictive battlespace awareness. For years, we've talked about intelligence prep for the battlefield. What that means is you go out and find where the battlespace is, and you find information about it, you send some assets overhead, you take pictures and all those things so you're prepping the battlefield.

Well, this is expanding now because of predictive battlespace awareness. We can stay longer and start earlier. If we think we're going to have a problem, not only do we want to know what happened, but we want to be able to say what will happen.

So has battlespace awareness improved? Absolutely. And it has mainly to do with IT and the technology by which we collect information, get it back quickly, analyze it and take that information, get it to the senior decision makers. *

Government Computer News Staff Writer Dawn Onley can be reached at donley@postnewsweektech.com.

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